LOS ANGELES – A woman who was sexually abused by seven Roman Catholic priests and had a baby by one of them received a $500,000 settlement Tuesday from the nation's largest archdiocese.
Rita Milla, now 46, first filed her case in 1984 after she says she was abused as a teenager by priests in the Los Angeles area. The payment was part of a $660 million global settlement the diocese reached collectively with past abuse victims.
"I'll never escape the memories and I'll always be fighting the after effects of the trauma I went through, but now I can work on healing," Milla said at a news conference.
A state court found in 2003 that priest Valentine Tugade fathered Milla's daughter, now 25. And another priest, Santiago Tamayo, admitted he had sex with Milla and publicly apologized years before his death in 1999.
The diocese refused to comment on Milla's case, referring questions to a statement by Cardinal Roger Mahony. The whereabouts of the remaining priests were unclear.
"We will continue our long-standing efforts to protect children, prevent sexual abuse and the potential for abuse," read Mahony's statement.
Milla has maintained that she was molested by Tamayo at a church in Carson when she was 16. After she turned 18, she says, she had sexual intercourse with Tamayo and he introduced her to six other priests who also abused her.
After she was impregnated in 1982 by Tugade at an L.A-area church, Milla said, Tamayo suggested that she get an abortion, then devised a plan to send her to the Philippines to have the child.
Milla returned to California after giving birth to her daughter, Jacqueline, and pleaded with the archdiocese for help but was refused. On the day Milla sued 23 years ago, all seven of the accused priests disappeared from the their parish offices, said her attorney, Gloria Allred.
Tamayo later went to the Philippines. In 2004, Allred released documents showing the church urged Tamayo to stay in that country after Jacqueline's birth and mailed him checks.
In three letters, church officials advised him not to reveal the source of the payments "unless requested under oath," noting that he was "liable for personal suits arising out of your past actions."
Milla, now a medical assistant who lives in southern Los Angeles County, said that she hasn't spoken with Tugade since shortly after her return from the Philippines.
Tugade, who was last known to be living in Fremont in Northern California, never expressed interest in caring for the child, she said.
"He was disappointed actually that she wasn't a boy," Milla said.
While she once planned to become a nun, Milla no longer believes in God. She said she lost her faith because of the church's callousness.
"I thought that the church would make everything OK, that they would punish them," she said. "After the church showed me that they didn't care about what happened, I realized what they were really about, that they were more like a business.
"They have no fear of God."